Paris has long been known as an international city – a place were people from all around the world gathered to live, work, and make art, among many other activities. Most of the “foreigners” we’ve focused on through this project have been artists and musicians who came from their own countries to France in order to participate in a wider dialogue of art and music, or to escape factors that limited their own art or desires – Russians fled the Revolution, while Americans fled Prohibition. But there were other immigrant groups that are less famous. In the 1920’s, Paris was home to large Chinese and North African immigrant communities, and there was almost certainly a Romani presence in and around the city. We have made attempts to find out what musical performances may have taken place, but due to source bias, we have unfortunately failed in this pursuit. Even identifying jazz performances is difficult, as they are not as well documented as Common Practice Period performances. We have not seen any reference to performances of east Asian, north African, or Romani folk music, even though we can say with near certainty that such things did happen in 1924 Paris.
I had an interesting experience interacting with immigrant communities myself in Paris; during my two-week trip, I stayed in two different neighborhoods heavily populated by immigrants. First, I stayed in an area called the “Goutte d’Or” (Gold Drop), which is home to a large Indian/south Asian community. Just down the street were a Bollywood video store, a pair of sari shops, several Asian traiteurs and Indian restaurants, and a few Kebab stores (there is also a smaller Turkish presence in the area). In fact, the day I arrived, I had to wait about ten minutes as a parade dedicated to Krishna passed down the street, leaving confetti, a heady food smell, and the echoing of drums in its wake.
The Goutte d’Or is clearly a very vibrant multicultural community within Paris, and it has these roots in Algerian immigration to the area beginning in the early 20th century. One can imagine how life must have been on those streets, with vendors selling their wares at the Place de La Chapelle and people bustling about the rue de La Chapelle (now the rue Marx Dormoy). And perhaps sometimes someone would pick up an old tune and whistle or hum as they went about their life, and every now and then people would gather to hear a friend pull out a Mandole or a set of drums and make music.
During the second week of my visit, I stayed in another neighborhood long inhabited by the poorer members of Parisian society: Belleville. While today much of it is a Chinatown, Belleville has been host to Algerian immigrants, and, earlier, a large white French working community. Belleville has historically been a counterpart to other hilltop satellite communities around Paris, like its more famous siblings Montmartre and Montparnasse.
While Montmartre flourished as a haven for poor artists in the Belle-Époque and Montparnasse followed suit in the first few decades of the 20th century, Belleville remained very much a neighborhood populated by manual laborers. Although I can’t say I heard any live music in Belleville while I was there, based on the atmosphere I feel it would be reasonable to speculate that a 1924 passerby would not have too difficult a time finding someplace to hear folk or popular music in Belleville.